Tobi Soniyi and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari has again credited former President Goodluck Jonathan with the success of the 2015 general election, saying that his patriotic zeal and the impartiality of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ensured the success of the elections.
Speaking at the Leadership Annual Awards organised by the publishers of Leadership newspapers, Buhari also congratulated his joint award winners – Goodluck Jonathan and Professor Attahiru Jega, the former Chairman of INEC.
They were jointly conferred with the Leadership Person of the Year award by the newspaper.
According to him, events of 2015, which the Leadership Newspapers brought to the fore yesterday, marked a watershed in the political history of the country.
He said: “Those of us who were participating actors in the elections were led by the higher ideal of the future of our great country and the well being of our people rather than the mere desire of politicians to win elections.
“It is therefore our commitment to this ideal, the patriotic zeal of President Jonathan, the impartiality of the electoral umpire, INEC, and exemplary conduct of the political parties, foreign pressure, and other actors that we collectively disappointed the prophets of doom who had predicted the disintegration of the country after the 2015 general election.
“Our democracy has been strengthened by the outcome of the 2015 elections, as our people now have more faith in the electoral system in the sense that their votes would count when choosing political leaders at various levels.
“We, the political class should build on the experience of the 2015 elections to nurture our democracy.”
Jonathan, who was the incumbent president, had conceded defeat to Buhari in the election conducted by the then INEC chairman, Attahiru Jega, an action that was described as unprecedented in the history of the country and in Africa.
His action saw to the peaceful transition from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which had ruled the country for 16 years, to the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government.
Though Jonathan was not present at the occasion, he was represented by his former Minister of Special Duties, Tanimu Turaki.
A former military Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), chaired the occasion.
Buhari charged the media to be true partners in the task of nation building, stating that the media must act in the spirit of patriotism at all times in the important role of informing the people of the country.
He said government was ready to entertain media inquiries, in line with the transparency and anti-corruption stance of his administration.
He said: “I expect the Nigerian media to join our government in the pursuit of these goals, not just to criticise to prove their independence.
“The media must continually see themselves as true partners in the task of nation building and thus act in the spirit of patriotism at all times in the important role of informing the people of the country.
“On our part, our doors are wide open to media inquiries in line with the transparency and anti-corruption stance of our administration.”
Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, who gave the keynote address titled, “Democracy, Political Transition and Challenge of Leadership in Africa”, called for a paradigm shift and the birth of a new narrative in the country.
He charged the country’s leaders on integrity in the discharge of their duties, stressing that the country needed leaders that would deliver on good governance.
He said: “In a moment that stands out as the crowning glory of our democracy, then President Goodluck Jonathan, putting the interest of the nation above his personal or group interest, conceded defeat to the current President Buhari, then of the opposition and now ruling party – the APC even before the final figures were tallied.
“The world stood still as what was once thought to be an impossible development manifested its beautiful colours before us. May we please all rise up and give President Jonathan a standing ovation for this rare feat.”
He said that the nation’s democracy had come to stay and called on Nigerians to be very proud, but added there was still a lot of work to be done.
He also canvassed support for the Buhari administration in its efforts to tackle the current economic challenges.
Emmanuel said that in the present situation, partisan politics should give way to the promotion of policies and programmes that unify Nigerians along the lines of common destiny and growth.
Abdulsalami, in his remarks, said that the country would have been engulfed in a devastating conflict if the political leaders, especially Jonathan and Buhari, had ignored the mediation of the National Peace Committee (NPC), which he co-chaired.
In his address, Abdulsalami said Nigerians have every cause to celebrate their nation in the light of the outcome of the elections, which had often resulted in an orgy of violence in many other countries.
While commending the political leaders, he said that the efforts of the NPC would have been in vain without the collective cooperation of the country’s leaders.
“Our efforts would have been in vain if President Buhari and former President Jonathan were not willing to cooperate with us and think about Nigeria first, or if Prof. Jega had failed to perform his statutory role well.
“We must all embrace this standard set by them and ensure that the labours of our heroes past are not in vain. We must ensure peace because if there is no peace, there is no country,” he said.
On his part, the publisher of the Leadership Newspapers, Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah, said Jonathan’s decision to concede defeat prevented 10,000 deaths.
Providing insights into what transpired behind the scenes during the 2015 presidential election, Nda-Isaiah disclosed that the Bayelsa State governor Seriake Dickson, Senator Ben Bruce, the then Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS) Ita Ekpenyong, former Minister of Aviation Osita Chidoka, and a handful of others, played instrumental roles in encouraging the former president to concede defeat.
He said those that convinced Jonathan to call Buhari, did so against the wishes of persons he described as “criminals who wanted Jonathan to rig the election no matter how many people would have died as a result”.
He added that the former president’s singular action made it easier for several state governors to concede defeat.
“Something else was happening on that day. President Goodluck Jonathan told then Senator-elect Ben Bruce and other party faithful who saw him that Tuesday morning that he would be conceding.
“Some of the party faithful didn’t understand what he meant because that had never happened before. He went on to say that if he didn’t concede, 10,000 Nigerians would die by the end of that day.
“Ben Bruce encouraged him. Others who played major roles in encouraging him included Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, Ita Ekpenyong, the then DSS DG, and Osita Chidoka, the then Minister of Aviation, and a handful of others.
“These people had to battle the criminals who wanted Jonathan to rig the election no matter how many people would have died as a result,” he disclosed.
While congratulating Prof. Jega, the Leadership publisher informed him that he had “set a standard for all his successors”.
However, reacting to Nda-Isaiah’s revelation, the Bayelsa governor yesterday refused to take credit for his role in the 2015 presidential election, stating that only Jonathan should take credit for the success of the poll.
A statement issued by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson, said: “Dickson believes that the action taken by Jonathan saved thousands of lives that would have been lost and kept the unity of Nigeria intact, particularly against the backdrop of predictions of the nation’s disintegration.”
Earlier in his statement on the joint award, Dickson had called on Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora to “always accord Jonathan the respect and honour of the true statesman that he is”.